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Convergence of Quake Aid Brings Hope, Inspiration to Forge Ahead

By Debbie Howard

I am filled with hope as I watch literally everyone I know scrambling to find ways to contribute to the rebuilding of the Tohoku region in this post-quake period. Indeed, it is difficult to think of anything else these days.

Almost on a daily basis, we hear stories of valiant contributions at just about every level imaginable: a personal level, a foreign business level, a Japanese business level, an international level, a nongovernmental/nonprofit organization level, an academic level, a U.S. military level — you name the way to look at it.

At a very “micro” level, I heard of one woman who drove up to the disaster area on her own in a van filled with blankets and clothing she had collected from her friends.

I also heard about one banker who traveled by one-way bus to the affected area to volunteer. He had to wait for two hours in a center for an assignment, but ultimately he and others literally removed a crushed car from the top of a crushed house and helped to restore a semblance of order to that one spot.

One head of a foreign-owned company has offered several full-time jobs for those who have been displaced in the hard-hit area and have no jobs to return to. He has hired two people already, and is still looking for a third.

The foreign-owned Tokyo International School partnered with Second Harvest Japan — an NGO that specializes in food banking — and utilized its empty classrooms as a distribution point for emergency supplies to be delivered directly to people in need.

One famous Japanese electronics manufacturer is stoically waiting for much-needed parts until its Tohoku plants get up and running again in a few months, instead of ordering those parts from alternative overseas sources.

And one foreign women’s business organization will — through its members’ professional expertise in psychology — provide training for Japanese educators and therapists on how to help traumatized children to move forward.

Yoshito Hori, head of Tokyo-based business school Globis, spearheaded the founding of an organization called Project Kibow. The name is a combination of the Japanese word “kibou” (hope) and “rainbow,” thereby signifying both “hope” and “a bridge between Japan and the rest of the world.”

Hori and five others recently traveled to Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, aiming to bring encouragement to devastated residents there. More than 70 people gathered for the Kibow meeting in Iwaki. The group is also working hard to raise money (over 60 million yen so far).

The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, in addition to its fund-raising efforts (over 48 million yen so far), recently launched a six-week initiative called the Tohoku EQ Information Facilitation Project, which seeks to encourage meaningful dialogue between the international business community and Japanese government representatives right now, while critical decision-making is taking place. The goal is to enable rebuilding with a shared vision for the future of Tohoku.

At a very “macro” level, there is Operation Tomodachi (Operation Friends) — the U.S. military aid initiative that is anticipated to be valued at $80 million, including relief supplies provided to disaster victims.

The personal nature and sheer scale of the assistance efforts are truly mind-boggling. This is an amazing convergence when governments, academia, NPOs/NGOs and both foreign and Japanese businesses are all contributing greatly to ensure successful rebuilding in Tohoku, where approximately 380,000 people are still living in shelters.

Let us all work hard; let us all work rapidly; let us all work together.

Debbie Howard is Chairman of CarterJMRN and President Emeritus of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.


Originally Published in Nikkei Weekly, 2nd May 2011

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